Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Barriers to Mission in the Anglican Church in North America

By Robin G. Jordan

The doctrine that the Anglican Church in North America’s College of Bishops is endorsing in its catechism and its rites is not agreeable to the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies in a number of key areas. It embodies a different gospel from that of the New Testament.

The gospel that this doctrine contains infers that Christ’s offering of himself on the cross was not a sufficient offering for the sins of the world, Christ is not a sufficient mediator between humanity and God, and faith in Christ is not sufficient to save. The Church must reiterate or represent Christ’s offering of himself in the priestly offering of the Mass. The Church needs “a separate, segregated order of men, called the priesthood” to mediate between the faithful and God, to offer the Mass on their behalf, and to dispense sacramental grace. Faith must be supplemented by the sacraments and good works in order to save.

 All of these beliefs were rejected by the Anglican Church at the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. They are at variance with the teaching of the Bible and the doctrine of the historic Anglican formularies.

The same doctrine that the College of Bishops is endorsing is also wed to a particular expression of Church. This expression of Church is in turn wed to a particular ambiance and to the particular church and clergy ornaments that form an integral part of that ambience.

This ambiance is difficult to recreate in the non-traditional settings in which most ACNA congregations will be gathering for worship for the foreseeable future. The church and clergy ornaments that form an integral part of it are expensive. The church ornaments are not designed for ease of movement and storage—a must when a congregation does not own or rent the building in which it gathers for worship.

I recall a conversation that I had with an elderly woman when I was the senior lay reader of an Episcopal storefront mission. “I just don’t feel like I’m in church,” she confided to me after attending one of our worship gatherings. Upon inquiry I learned that she missed the high altar, polished brass candlesticks, flickering candles, needlepoint kneelers, wooden pews, stained glass windows, vested choir, and organ music that she associated with the worship of the Episcopal Church.

As a storefront mission we lacked what she considered the requisite ambiance for an Episcopal church. While we had a number of strengths—a friendly welcoming congregation, an eclectic blend of traditional and contemporary music, enthusiastic congregational singing, a barebones contemporary language liturgy, minimal ceremony, clear biblical teaching, and an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit—and these strengths were attracting people to the mission’s worship gatherings, they did not offset for her this lack.

Early in the life of the mission, we had decided to focus on what we could do well within the limits of our circumstances and resources rather than try to imitate the worship of the deanery’s parish churches. This included attempting to replicate the ambiance of these churches. It was a decision that we were not to regret. We were able to attract a far larger segment of the unchurched population than we would have if we had attempted to duplicate their worship. We attracted people with no church background at all as well as people with a range of denominational backgrounds.

During the time period in which the mission grew from a satellite congregation of the largest parish in the deanery to a self-supporting parish in its own right several Continuing Anglican congregations were launched in the deanery. None of them flourished. The population segment at which they were targeted was far too small. They were not able to recreate the kind of ambience in which traditionalist Episcopalians set great store. The use of the 1928 Prayer Book and the 1940 Hymnal did not hold the attraction for non-Episcopalians that it did for the handful of traditionalist Episcopalians forming these congregations.

Here in western Kentucky families and individuals who attend the worship gatherings of liturgical churches form a very tiny segment of the population. Roman Catholics form less than 2% of the population. Anglicans, Episcopalians, and Lutherans form less than 1%. All of the Anglican and Episcopal congregations are Anglo-Catholic High Church in their ambiance, a carryover from the days when the Oxford Movement and Catholic Revivalism were strong influences in the Diocese of Kentucky. While the larger congregations have some young people, these congregations are for the most part gray-haired and middle aged and older. 

In the minds of the region’s Protestant churchgoing population this particular ambiance is associated with the Roman Catholic Church. Roman Catholics are viewed as devote in their own way but not genuinely Christian in their beliefs and practices. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are viewed in much the same light. For members of the unchurched population with a Protestant church background, this association is a significant barrier to their attendance of an Anglican or Episcopal church. For those who have attended an evangelical church in the past, this particular ambiance is also too far removed from what they were accustomed to.

While one hears and reads anecdotal claims that Millenials are attracted to the particular ambiance that the College of Bishops is seeking to make normative for the Anglican Church in North America, the statistical research as missiologist Ed Stetzer has pointed out in a number of articles does not support these claims. Only a small number of Millenials are attracted to liturgical churches and to this particular ambiance.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Independent Catholic Churches, and the Continuing Anglican Churches, which have an identical or similar ambiance are all in various stages of decline. These denominations are losing members and not replacing them.

If any conclusion may be drawn from these observations, it is wedding a denomination to this particular ambiance is a serious mistake. It is consigning the denomination to a slow death by attrition.

If the Anglican Church in North America is to fulfill the Great Commission and to multiply disciples of Jesus Christ and to enfold them in new churches, it needs to adopt teaching and practices that are in line with the Bible and the historic Anglican formularies and not to tie itself to a particular expression of Church or ambiance. The Holy Spirit works only through the proclamation of the true gospel to draw people to God. The Holy Spirit is, after all, the Spirit of truth. The Church’s task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not converts to a particular ideology. Unfortunately in the ACNA’s catechism and rites the College of Bishops is seeking to do the latter.

As Ed Stetzer points out in his article, “Missiology, Church Models, and Cultural Alignment,” churches need to consider the “current cultural moment” in determining what will be the most effective way of making disciples of Jesus Christ in their particular corner of the mission field. This requires that they should be free from such encumbrances as a denominational or judicatorial commitment to a particular expression of Church or to a particular ambiance.

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